The amount of sex you have regularly declines with age, and for postmenopausal women, that decline accelerates.
That’s not news. The results of our own Global Survey reflect that pattern, as do any other studies that examine the frequency of sex by age.
What might be surprising, though, is the cause. It’s long been assumed that the decline in sexual activity is a purely biological in nature: the result of a lowering libido over time. But that might not be the whole story.
A recent study out of the UK points to a psychosocial element in later life sexual decline. And the implications of that suggest that it’s possible to buck the trend entirely.
There’s a lot of reasons why sex decreases during and after menopause. The women involved in the survey most commonly cited a partner’s medical condition or sexual dysfunction, their own health issues, and medication side-effects, in that order. That’s all biological, in one way or another.
What’s most interesting is the next most common factors: relationship problems, being widowed or divorced, feeling less desirable, and the perceptions of aging. These are all psychosocial factors, and they don’t usually appear in survey results.
Previous studies are numerical in nature, and leave little room for open-ended questions. This study quantified it in a different way, through open text answers, allowing for a better insight into the psychology of the issue. To borrow a couple of marketing terms, it’s a psychographic approach, not a demographic one.
“Sexual health challenges are common in women as they age, and partner factors play a prominent role in women’s sexual activity and satisfaction, including the lack of a partner, sexual dysfunction of a partner, poor physical health of a partner, and relationship issues,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, who directed the study. “In addition, menopause-related problems such as vaginal dryness and pain with sex have been identified as problems affecting sexual function, yet few women seek treatment for these issues, despite the availability of effective therapies.”
The effective therapies is the key takeout here. What it tells us is that, while all of the reasons for declining sex can be readily addressed with tried and tested methods, postmenopausal women are reluctant to treat the symptoms they’re experiencing.
What’s most interesting to me is that ‘no desire for sex’ is not one of the reasons given for the decline in it. Does this mean that women still want the sex? I think it does, or at least, I think it implies that they want to want it.
Moreover, the infrequency of sex tells us little about the quality of that sex. Many studies indicate that women find themselves more experimental, more adventurous, and more able to achieve multiple orgasms as they age.
And the same studies indicate that men and women alike grow in confidence and enjoy sex more as they age. So while sex and later ages may be more about quality than quantity, it seems, that for most of us, the best is yet to come – even if it comes less often.